Naomi Tulay-Solanke, a married mother of three children, is the founder of the Community Health Initiative (CHI), a non-profit NGO in Liberia. CHI’s primary focus is to provide free community health care services to the under privileged and the organization works in ghettos, market places, and hard to reach areas in Montserrado, Margibi, Bong,Grand cape Mount, Grand Bassa, and Gbarpolu Counties.
During the Ebola outbreak initially, especially when the Ebola outbreak started in March 2014, CHI began to carry out health promotion and infection prevention messages via print and electronic media. Naomi recounts:
“When we started to carry out our Ebola response work, we partnered with U-Foundation, an International NGO and with Planned Parenthood. We were giving health care messages and we were sensitizing the people about infectious diseases. When the outbreak escalated in August 2014, CHI was able to trained over two thousand young men and women who went into the various communities to give out hand washing buckets and carry out social mobilization and health promotion. We delivered food, water and medications to people who were quarantined.
In the beginning of the outbreak, a lot of people did not believe that Ebola existed. They believed that it was a myth. To counter this, we recruited people from the communities we worked in and trained them to carry out the social mobilization in their communities. We found this effective to helping communities accept and understand the health promotion and infection prevention messages. Children were able to talk to their parents. They were also able to encourage their friends, and based on that, people began to take preventive measure.
We also supported Ebola treatment centers with bottled water. Ebola dehydrates patients, so the doctors in the treatment centers needed to keep the patients constantly hydrated. By supplying drinking water to the treatment centers, we were able to help a little way.
Later as the crisis began to subside and schools were ordered to reopen, we began working with ActionAid Liberia on their back-to-school program. When schools were reopened, Liberia was still recording new cases of Ebola. ActionAid Liberia launched its Ebola response back-to-school support to schools. The program provides vital infection prevention and control training for schools. CHI’s involvement in the project is to go in and train parents, teachers, school authorities, community leaders on how to apply the safe school protocols developed by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. The protocols lay out the minimum standards schools need to have in place to protect students from infection. The protocols also mandate that each school have a fever monitoring team to check students’ temperatures each day and a school safety team to ensure that safe hygiene is practiced and a system is in place to refer ill students to health center.
The crisis has subsided, but it has left me with some very powerful memories. I remember this baby, when we went along with U-Foundation to donate food and medicine to a family in Brewerville. They had been locked up in the house for two days because someone had died in the house. When we arrived, we saw that the dead person had a baby and the baby had been suckling on the dead mother. It was so sad, because everyone in the house was afraid to go near the dead body, so no one removed the baby. The emergency Ebola response hygiene team entered the room the dead woman laid in, one of the team members pulled the baby away from the mother and held the child an arm’s length away. The baby was so dehydrated. Being a mother and also being pregnant at the time, I could not stand to look as the child bundled into the ambulance. It was a heartbreaking moment for me.
On May 9, Liberia will be declared free of Ebola transmission. We will not be declared completely Ebola free until Sierra Leone and Guinea stop having cases. We have to continue practicing the safety measures to protect ourselves.
We all have to play our part. CHI will continue creating awareness, sensitizing people and promoting all of the safe hygiene measures.
I am confident that Liberia can remain free of transmission and I believe that we can eventually kick Ebola out of West Africa.”